An Ohio couple recently travelled to northern B.C. to thank a search and rescue team for their efforts to find their late son, seven years after he disappeared.
Carla and Herb Sill visited Terrace Search and Rescue to thank them for finding the body of their son, 26-year-old Warren Andrew Sill.
In July 2012, Warren loaded up an SUV with camping gear and camera equipment and left his home in North Ridgeville, Ohio, for northwest B.C.
A lover of nature and wildlife, the young man embarked on a cross-country journey to film the rare and elusive Kermode bear as part of an educational film for young students.
“He wanted to take this back and do talks in schools about what the [Northern Gateway] pipeline was doing to the habitats,” says Carla. “He just wanted to educate kids, he loved kids. He would have loved to be a teacher.”
Five days after Warren was last seen in Prince George, his vehicle was found, his tent and sleeping bag inside, at the entrance of the Whiskey Creek Trail about 80 kilometres east of Terrace.
The multi-day 7.2-kilometre hike in Seven Sisters Provincial Park can be difficult to follow, and with no bridge, crossing the creek is extremely hazardous when water levels are high.
Despite exhaustive efforts from search squads from around the province, the search was called off on July 20.
Four months later, the Terrace team found his body near a waterfall that cannot be accessed in the summer, after thinking he’d likely be there.
They’d been looking in the area and spotted what appeared to be pieces of a green shirt wrapped around a tree.
“Once they put the [ripped shirt] back together, they could see there was an emblem on it for an orthodontist in Ohio,” says Dave Jephson, the team’s vice-president.
Once they confirmed with Carla and Herb that the shirt was Warren’s, crews went back out to try and find his body.
At the end of the five kilometres of Whiskey Creek that had not been searched, crews rappelled down to the river bottom through a chute and discovered a log jam near a 46-foot waterfall.
They found Warren inside the log pileup nearly 100 feet down into the gorge. His body was recovered with a helicopter longline and taken to a nearby field, where police and the coroner were waiting.
Both the RCMP and search teams believe Warren had lost his footing and drowned.
In the years since, Carla and Herb have started a non-profit organization in Ohio establishing a scholarship fund at Kent State University, their son’s alma mater.
Since 2016, the Warren A. Sill Fund has also brought educational programs from science and history museums in Cleveland to inner-city schools.
Returning to the area where Warren spent his last days, to say goodbye and to meet the people involved with the search, was a trip the Sills knew they had to make.
“We want to meet the people who gave us closure… We can never repay them for what they did,” Carla says.
On Aug. 4, the team and Warren’s parents got into a helicopter to visit where their son was found. Near a plaque set up at the bottom of the waterfall, Herb and Carla spread their son’s ashes.
Before going home, the couple donated $10,000 to the search team to build their new headquarters, calling it just a small token of their appreciation.
“You have to be a parent, you have to be in our shoes to understand,” Carla says says. “In my heart, they’re my family. They gave us closure, and for that, we’ll forever be grateful.”